“A Malaysian Spring?”: A Brief Note to our new Minister of Youth

After the conclusion of Malaysia‘s 13th General Election, the general perception now is that reformation or opposition politics has been demonized in Malaysia to a considerable degree, and the youth have been forced on threat of losing their government scholarships, to stay completely out of politics. This is only a compromise solution, which can blow up at any time much as has the Arab youth in the middle East.

In 2012, in fact, the Deputy Prime Minister had clarified the “no political allegiance for students” law by stating its intention was NOT to stifle political debate among students, but merely to keep them out of “party politics” until their mature adult years. The question is, will this truly “defuse” the discontented youth?

Malaysia has a stronger middle class than most Arab countries, and this phenomenon acts as an important ballast to keep the public life peaceful. Middle class families are primarily interested in their employment, housing, and car loans, and do not usually take part in street demonstrations. Yet this condition has also existed to some extent in the Arab countries, so why have they erupted into what some call an “Arab spring”?

The reasons must be deeper than economic. “Springtime” is traditionally the season of youthful re-birth and rejuvenation, and in fact this is one of the most powerful recurring images in Al Qur’an itself. The phenomenon of springtime rains and the blossoming of the flowers and trees is one of the great Signs of Allah SWT in His Creation. And to this extent, disenfranchizing the youth from governmental participation is not in line with the worldview of Islam.

Indeed, the Iranians, however they may have deviated from the most Muslim belief and thoughts, have mourned the rise of the Muslim dynastic system every year for centuries. And some of these dynasties have even attained certain heights of civilization and good governance, such as, those occasional periods in which strict enforcement of the Zakat system virtually eliminated poverty among the Muslim communities.

Yet we need to keep our peace and security, which our Arab brethren have not done. And so we need to give some deep thought and guidance to our youth about how they may re-enfranchize themselves in such a way as to feel fully participant in the present Malaysian governmental system, which happens to include UMNO and the Malay-Muslim monarchies.

We need to understand that the central government sometimes tends to impose itself on its citizenry, such as, for example, having BN flags flying almost everywhere and in every office in the universities, which are actually supposed to be trans-national environments. The government’s move to effect the suspension of yearly licensing requirements for media publications is certainly another step in the right direction.

But at heart, we Malay descendants of the Muslim civilization must be healed from our fears of opposition or intellectual debate and discourse. In Indonesia, citizens of Yogyakarta who fear the loss of their autonomy freely wear T-shirts stating “Anti Demokrat”, meaning, they do not support the President’s particular political party. And no one goes to jail. Yogyans laugh when informed of the joke of Malaysian government efforts to criminalize opposition political slogans or symbols on young people’s clothing. But let’s not imitate those in Indonesia.

Let’s instead strike a balance here in Malaysia; Can we learn to follow a democratization that is compatible with formation of a true intellectual and civilized society and our own deepest religious convictions? This is the challenge to our youth, and indeed, all of our citizens. We need to discover that form of democratization that truly protects us from the excesses against which the Arab youth have recently so violently rebelled, and which also cherishes Malaysia’s reputation for truly understanding and compassionate Muslim governance and leadership.

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